May marked a massive month for international Para Table Tennis, with three major Opens taking place on the continent. Once again club members were called up to national teams ahead of a crucial run of tournaments in the lead-up to this autumn’s European Championships.
May began with club members Paul Karabardak and Rob Davies travelling to Slovenia for a national Open that would see both club members playing in finals. In the singles Paul continued his remarkable season for Team GB, seeing off German Thomas Rau to clinch gold in a hotly contested class six category which featured eight of the world’s top ten. Rob Davies meanwhile was eventually overcome in his own final by Korea’s Young Dae Joo, leaving Rob a silver medal from the class one singles. Rob would add to his Slovenia haul in the doubles event though, earning bronze after reaching the semi-final along with fellow Welshman and new team partner Tom Matthews.
After a pit-stop return to the UK Paul and Rob were soon travelling back to Eastern Europe for the Slovakia Open. In Bratislava, the Cardiff pair were held off the medals during the singles event after both players crashed out of the competition in the quarter final round, Paul having been beaten by the world number one in his category and Rob after witnessing a sensational comeback by Korean Ki-Won Nam who overturned Rob’s 2-0 lead to win the match 3-2.
Teaming up with Scottish ace Martin Perry, Paul Karabardak helped Team GB to a good win over Germany during
the team event in Slovenia before eventually slipping out in the quarter final again after a narrow defeat to a strong Danish side. Rob Davies and Tom Matthews made it one step further in the class one category to clock up another British bronze, though Rob’s route to the final was once again blocked by Korea.
Ten days later and Team GB were in action once again, this time at Germany’s Bayreuth Open. Rob Davies was in attendance to fight for British medals, while sixteen year old club member Lawrence John joined up with the team as part of the GB Pathway Squad. Cardiff Coach Danielle de Jong was also in competition at the event, representing her native Holland in the women’s class 9 category.
In the singles event Rob progressed towards the top medals after overcoming team-mate Tom Matthews in an all British semi-final. Rob was to be beaten to the gold though by the now familiar Ki-Won Nam; the same Korean player responsible for Rob’s singles eliminations in Slovakia. Taking silver Rob still carried away Britain’s most prestigious singles medal from the competition, but the class 1 star later admitted “I’m very disappointed. I was looking forward to playing him [Ki-Won Nam] and I wanted to go out and perform the way I can and I didn’t to be honest. I’ve just got to come back stronger and this will really motivate me now to push myself even further and really work on some things in the training hall.”
Meanwhile in class 10 Lawrence John fought bravely but slipped out of the competition in the group stage. Danielle de Jong made it successfully out of the groups only to be beaten in the knock-out stages by China’s Xiong Guiyan, the eventual winner of women’s class 9.
The following days in Bayreuth ushered in another gold for Rob Davies and Britain. The team event in Bavaria was contested in a round robin format and in the class 1 category a run of three victories for Rob and Tom Matthews set up a deciding clash against the also undefeated combined team from Korea and Switzerland. Rob’s now familiar rival Ki-Won Nam featured once again in the decider and although Rob was beaten in a singles round of the team clash by the talented Korean, he and Tom Matthews proved strong enough to take the match 3-2 overall to claim team gold for GB. Danielle de Jong soon joined Rob among the medals as the Cardiff coach won bronze in the team event along with Dutch partner Kelly Van Zon.
Playing in a combined team with players from Chinese Tapei and the Ivory Coast Lawrence John impressed in the class 10 team event, claiming a victory in his singles fixture against experienced Mongolian player Odbayar Khasbaatar. The win against Khasbaatar was not to be enough though to prevent his side going down to the combined side from Mongolia and South Africa 3-1, and after a second defeat by France Lawrence’s team were out of the medal hunt. The GB Pathway player, who competes for Cardiff in the British League between his studies at Grantham Table Tennis Academy, later said of his performance “I got better throughout the day and started to play more freely and wasn’t as nervous. I was just enjoying it really. I’ll keep training hard and just try to relax in these competitions.”